Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Friday, 3 October 2008 12:01 UK

UK secret doubts at Ghana freedom

By Rick Fountain
BBC News

Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's independence leader
Kwame Nkrumah, who led Ghana to independence on 6 March 1957

British cabinet papers, kept secret until now, reveal the deep pessimism felt by ministers over the future of Ghana as an independent state.

According to documents from the 1950s, doubts were expressed about whether the country could be a viable state.

One politician said Ghanaians had every qualification for democratic government as they appeared to be "incompetent, cruel, divided and corrupt".

Ghana was the UK's first African colony to win independence.

Back in the 1950s, the UK was feeling the heat from calls to set free its African territories and ministers were in a hurry to do something about it.

But even though the Gold Coast, as it then was, had been promised independence, ministers doubted that that Ghana would be a democratic and viable unitary state.

These people appear to be incompetent, cruel, divided and corrupt
Harold Macmillan, then UK chancellor

Experts reported problems of corruption and hostility between the three main communities - Muslims in the north, tribal African communities in the interior and then the peoples of the better-off coastal strip.

Ministers told the Colonial Secretary, Alan Lennox Boyd, that Ghana should instead be a federation. He said it was too late for that.

Then, Harold Macmillan, the chancellor, startled the Cabinet by declaring harshly that "these people", as he put it, seemed to have "every qualification for democratic government".

"They appear to be incompetent, cruel, divided and corrupt," he said.

He wished them "a happy future".

Those sarcastic and bitter words stand in stark contrast to another, more generous, Macmillan speech a few years later, as UK prime minister in apartheid South Africa: "The wind of change is blowing through this continent, whether we like it or not, the growth of national consciousness is a political fact, we must all accept it as a fact and our national policies must take account of it."

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